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How Landscaping Can Damage Your Plumbing

By Teri Silver

Landscaping, Tree Roots, Hut, tree, house, tropical climate, outdoors, built structure, architecture, plant, building exterior


Sculptured landscaping enhances your San Diego property’s intrinsic value, but left
unmanaged, it can damage your home’s plumbing.

Trees, vines, shrubbery, hedges, and flower beds with greenery have spreading root systems,
and when growing too close to the house, can cause major damage. Pipes, sewer lines, hoses,
and septic systems are at risk, especially from ground covers and ivies. One of the most
expensive repair projects for your home is a leaking sewer (always best handled by a
professionally licensed plumber), so read on to find out what’s at stake and how to avoid it.

Sewer Line Damage San Diego CA

As a property owner, you are responsible for maintaining your sewer’s connection from
the house to the main line, called a “lateral.” Lines filled with water, dirt, and raw sewage
attract roots from trees, shrubs, vines, and ground cover. (Think of it as human waste
composting to fertilizer).

Shifting soil and (possible, although rare) frosts may crack the sewer lines. Broken or
cracked lines are vulnerable to strong pressure from plant roots, which can spread into
tubing made of iron, plastic, and even concrete. Tree roots can lead to major sewer line
repairs because roots thicken to become so strong that they crush sewer pipes.

Clogged Pipes

Plants need food, water, air, and nutrients to grow and thrive, and yard soil feeds the grass,
trees, weeds, and all the greenery around the outside of the house. These roots can spread
deep and wide underground, reaching your outside plumbing. When they wrap around pipes,
drains, and spigots, you’re in for a real mess.

Landscaping Dos

Beautiful landscaping is part of the joy of home ownership. And if you’re not the do-it-
yourself type, professionally designed, and installed landscaping can cost a pretty
penny. If you do want to DIY, keep these tips in mind.
● Do make a structured plan – whether on paper, whiteboard, or computer.
Planting trees and shrubs haphazardly won’t create the aesthetic vision you’re
looking for. More importantly, some plants don’t make good companions for
● Do place trees, vines, shrubbery, and flower beds at least 10 feet away from
sewer lines and water spigots.
● Do take note of where the sewer lines are. Main water pipes are generally laid in
straight lines from the water meter to the house, but it may be different on your
property. It only takes one bonk from a shovel onto a line and then, whoosh!
Contact the San Diego Utilities Underground Program for help finding out where
sewage and water lines are located.
● Do choose trees and plants native to San Diego, such as desert mallow, salvia,
fuchsia, and California poppy. Succulents like cacti and aloes are also great
choices –– they love the San Diego heat!

… and Don’ts

● Don’t place trees, ground cover, shrubbery, hedges, and flower beds close to
sewer systems or the perimeter of the house especially where outdoor faucets
are. (Vegetation growing too close to the house can lead to other problems, like
rotting wood and a cracked foundation).

● Don’t use commercial drain cleaners that are NOT designated for sewer or
plumbing line maintenance. Chemical products are generally not recommended
for sewer root control because of possible damage to pipes and the environment.
● Don’t cover sewage and plumbing line access points. Leading to sewer laterals,
these capped pipes are called “cleanouts,” and are usually placed within three to
five feet of a residence (but sometimes at the front property line near the street).
Sewer cleanouts allow access to video inspections and maintenance.

Septic Systems and Leaching Fields

Landscaping may dress up that funny-looking septic bullet tank that sticks out on your
property like a sore thumb, but shrubs, ground cover, vines, and tree roots can damage
draining systems and leaching fields. Roots absorb nutrients in the wastewater, strangle
the tank and prevent it from draining.

Frequently Asked Questions About Plumbing Damage From Landscaping

Q: How can I prevent roots from growing in the pipes?
A: Products containing potassium hydroxide and copper sulfate may prevent roots from
getting into the system. Metal sticks or sheet barriers placed into the ground (about 6 to
12 inches deeper than the pipe) deter roots from getting close. Wooden barriers are an
option, but they eventually decompose.
Q: What happens if sewage comes up through the toilet, can I flush it back down?
A: At this point, it’s a good bet that roots have grown into a thick vegetative mat, and the
clump has blocked the sewage line. Trying to flush it will likely lead to a bigger backup
and a real mess in the bathroom. Time to call the pros.
Q: How do I keep ahead of potential problems?
A: Have your plumbing and sewage lines inspected, at least once every few years. In
business for more than 30 years, Black Mountain Plumbing offers service 24/7 in the
San Diego area.

Landscaping adds to the value of your home but when it damages the property, all
these pretty trees and shrubs are more of a hassle than a joy. For peace of mind (and

preempting what could be a major undertaking), add a plumbing and sewage line
inspection to your annual or biennial outdoor chore list.

Teri Silver is a journalist and outdoor enthusiast. She and her husband live on 5 acres
with a vast lawn, three gardens, a farm, a pond, many trees, and a lot of yard work!
The best parts of the year are summer and fall when home-grown veggies are on the
dinner table.

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April 2024
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